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O4S demand to end frat housing part of long-term debate on party spaces, sexual assault

in Around Campus/News by

On  March 24, ABLLE canceled a party it was scheduled to co-host with Phi Psi, one of Swarthmore’s two fraternities. ABLLE, an affinity group for black and Latino men, decided to cancel the event in light of the activism on campus by Organizing for Survivors (O4S), a student group advocating for policy changes regarding issues of sexual assault. The cancellation is part of a larger discussion for an institutional change in attitude towards sexual assault.

Angel Padilla ’18, a SwatTeam manager and co-president of ABLLE, said the group canceled the party out of respect for O4S and its mission.

“The week we cancelled on Phi Psi was decided because we felt it was inappropriate to throw a party during a time where sexual assault was being addressed on this campus in a powerful way through the movement of O4S,” he wrote. “We felt it would be respectful to the movement and its members to cancel that week.”
However, President of Phi Psi Mark Hergenroeder ’19 pushed back against claims that sexual assault is a bigger problem at Phi Psi parties than it is in other contexts and locations on campus.

“Based on Swarthmore Public Safety survey data from the years 2016-2017, there is no evidence to support an increased rate of sexual assault in Phi Psi relative to the student body,” Hergenroeder said.

While the call to end housing for fraternities is only one part of O4S’ demands, the issue has yielded particularly contentious debate within the student body.

“Swarthmore must remove students living in the fraternities immediately and relocate them to regular campus housing. By the start of the 2018-2019 school year, the college must terminate its leases with Phi Psi and Delta Upsilon and rename and democratize the buildings they currently lease so that any student or student group can host events there,” O4S core members wrote in the demands, which were published in Voices. “Swarthmore must begin a thorough, formal, and transparent process of examining whether the existence of fraternity organizations on campus is aligned with Swarthmore’s professed values of inclusion and justice.”

Of the five fraternities that have existed in the college’s history, the two that continue to exist are Phi Psi and Delta Upsilon. As highlighted by Bobby Zipp ’18 in a January 2015 article titled “Alcohol-related hospitalizations, calls decrease,” the implementation of a stricter alcohol policy in August 2014 removed the ‘ ability to fund parties that served alcohol making it more difficult for clubs and organizations to hold parties. The policy reduced the number of parties at venues like Paces and Olde Club, making the fraternities more integral to social life at the college.

The process for getting a party permit in addition to the process for getting an alcohol permit previously prevented parties from happening in Paces and Olde Club simply because people were unfamiliar with the protocol, said Robby Jimenez ’19, executive board member of ENLACE. The alcohol policy makes the fraternities on campus structurally able to host parties more consistently.

“Paces and Olde Club weren’t very used because people didn’t know that they could reserve them to throw a party or how to throw a party,” Jimenez said. “It’s interconnected with the alcohol policy [from 2014] that made it harder to get alcohol for parties with a process that frats just know how to do.”

In an opinions article for the Phoenix from 2015, several students including Peter Amadeo ’15 expressed discontent with the concentration of parties at the fraternities and how queer and trans students felt uncomfortable in these spaces.

“Swarthmore brands itself as a liberal institution,” Amadeo said. “To an extent that’s fair, but in the end it’s a corporation and it’s there to make money.”

Feelings of discomfort and dissatisfaction with the control over party spaces by the frats have resurfaced due to demands made by Organizing for Survivors.

O4S’ demand to abolish frat housing surrounds a greater discussion about fraternities’ access to spaces and how members of minority groups on campus may feel less comfortable in these spaces. Dylan Clairmont ’21, a board member of Swarthmore Queer Union, believes that many queer students at the college did not go to the frat parties because they weren’t comfortable in the space.

“A vast majority of the queer people I know at Swat do not go to the frats, that’s not to say that there aren’t queer people who go to the frats and enjoy the frat parties,” Clairmont said. “I know that people don’t like the frats and don’t feel that it is a space where they can express themselves and have a good time.”

Tiffany Wang ’21, treasurer of Swarthmore Asian Organization, supported the notion that the frats can be uncomfortable for minority groups, but added that the frats’ control over party spaces was itself problematic.

“For me, it’s twofold. Not only do you have minorities not feeling safe because of how [the frats have] used [the space], but also the fact that only they can use it,” Wang said. “Those are two problems that are doubly exclusionary.”

According to Clairmont, the discomfort of minorities at frat parties is partnered with an unequal access to the party scene where fraternities have an unfair advantage.

“I definitely agree with the sentiment that it seems unfair that the frats are always allowed these spaces that [creates] an unfair power dynamic,” Clairmont said. “If they were to reserve the spaces like any other group on campus as opposed to a designated space already given to them, I think they would still be able to have parties but that power dynamic would shift.”

The transition of spaces like Kitao, Olde Club, and the WRC from fraternity houses to spaces for the general student population demonstrates how the democratization of the fraternities can benefit the student body as a whole, according to Wang.

“I really think that Olde Club and the WRC being frat houses in the past and what they are now open up the perspective of why the democratization of the space is important because they are prime examples of what can happen when that sort of space is open to everyone,” Wang said.

According to Hergenroeder, the high volume of students that consistently attend the frat parties indicates that many feel safe in the space. He stressed the importance of sexual assault training for fraternity members and said that criticism made by students who don’t attend the parties was vital to making the frat house spaces more inclusive.

Samuel Sheppard ’21, a SwatTeam member, said the notion that frats at Swarthmore were safer and more welcoming than those at other US schools was popular argument among students.

However, Jimenez, who transferred from University of Connecticut to Swarthmore last year, feels that  fraternities at Swarthmore are not much different from those at larger institutions except that fraternity parties at the college are usually open to the entire campus.

“I hear a lot of people say, ‘this is Swarthmore, it’s different…these aren’t real frats’ but they are,” Jimenez said. “They function in a lot of the same ways; they have frat housing, they have their dues, they have their party themes. I think the only drastic difference is that there’s no one at the door checking to see if you can come in or not.”

However, unlike most fraternities at other institutions, Swarthmore’s fraternities are largely non-residential. At most times, only one brother lives in the DU and Phi Psi houses.

Jimenez feels that the fraternities at Swarthmore are no less exclusive than fraternities at other colleges.

“It’s the same dynamic and hyper-masculine space that makes a lot of people uncomfortable and I think a lot of the people that try to push this narrative that nothing bad happens at frats are the people who don’t feel uncomfortable by the frats themselves,” Jimenez said. “If you speak to minorities like women or the queer community specifically, you will find that they don’t feel comfortable there.”

While demands by O4S resemble the response to the problems regarding party spaces as a result of the alcohol policy from 2014, Nathalie Baer-Chan ’19 wrote in an email to the Phoenix that the volume of parties held outside the frats has increased since that time. Her experience at the college her freshman year, she wrote, consisted of a social life that was centered around the fraternities. Beginning her sophomore year, she noticed the growing presence of alternative parties on campus.

“If you wanted to go out on a Saturday, [the fraternities] were the options you were looking at,” Baer-Chan wrote. “Independent parties started becoming more common and visible, not just from formal organizations like NuWave but also from individuals who decided that if their kind of party wasn’t on campus yet, they would throw it themselves.”

While some students have expressed discomfort at the fraternities, there have been efforts by the new Phi Psi leadership to make the fraternity space more inclusive.

According to Padilla, Phi Psi first reached out to ABLLE to ask if they would want to co-host a party.

“[Phi Psi] reached out to ABLLE in new efforts to increase inclusivity and better relations with affinity groups on campus,” Padilla wrote in an email to the Phoenix. “[ABLLE] recognized the new leadership in Phi Psi and their determination to do better as a frat and engage with other groups on campus while addressing the darker history of the frat.”

According to Sheppard, his experience as SwatTeam for Phi Psi parties, there has been communication and a willingness to help make sure the space is safe for all party attendees by Phi Psi.

“Whenever I SwatTeam Phi, they’re quite communicative. Every time I SwatTeam, a group chat gets set up with the SwatTeam members and the president [of Phi Psi] and we are told that the brothers are a resource and there to help make a safe space,” Sheppard said.

Sheppard understands the frustration at the fraternities but also sees an effort made by the fraternities to make the party culture more inclusive and sees that the shortcomings are due to a lack of resources for the fraternities to assist in creating a better space for students.

“I definitely feel as though the inclusive party culture at Swat is really good in that a lot of people have the option to enjoy it and no one really feels excluded from it in that way,” Sheppard said. “As a SwatTeam member I can understand why a lot of people are frustrated with the frats because they aren’t able to do much about creating a safe space. But it is very hard for them to do so because they aren’t given the resources to do that.”

While the fraternities have put forth an effort to create a safe and inclusive environment, students continue to feel discomforted by the spaces and frustration with the access to space that the fraternities have. The discussions about fraternity housing sparked by O4S have raised the issue of access to space on campus but has not necessarily rallied an anti-fraternity sentiment. This resembles the frat referendum from 2013, which did not pass, where there was also a lack of support for the eradication of frats.

O4S has decentralized their position on fraternities, stopped putting up anti-frat posters, and have made efforts to clarify their demands concerning fraternity housing. Although the debate continues, any immediate action regarding the frats seems unlikely as President Smith made no promises in her letter to the student body about Title IX. The frats have responded to criticism by attempting to create a more inclusive environment.

SwatTeam chronically understaffed, limiting party options

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Last Saturday, both parties hosted by ENLACE and Phi Psi did not have SwatTeam members present. SwatTeam determines whether or not its members are required to work an event based on the attendance of the party and whether alcohol is being served. Shivani Chinnappan ’18 posted on the Swarthmore College Facebook group seeking SwatTeam members to work at parties that night.

SwatTeam serves as a liaison to Public Safety by carrying out safety measures at parties such as checking IDs, providing crowd control, regulating alcohol that is brought into parties or taken out, providing a safe walk to student’s residences upon the student’s request, and enforcing the end time for parties. Recently, SwatTeam has experienced a shortage of workers.

While ENLACE hosted an open party with no alcohol, so no SwatTeam members were required to be present. Phi Psi had to hold a closed party due to the lack of SwatTeam members working on Saturday.  

Chinnappan, a SwatTeam member and a party host on Saturday, believes that the shortage of workers on Saturday specifically was due to the storm.

[SwatTeam] put a call out for members to work on Friday but we were unaware of how many workers we would need because we didn’t know what parties would be occurring due to the power outage,” Chinnappan said. “On Saturday, we found out that a lot of people had withdrawn, so we told some groups that their party had to be closed.”

However, Chinnappan thinks that the shortage of workers this weekend was related to the more prevalent issue of not holding SwatTeam members accountable for working the shifts they have signed up for. Recently, the scarcity of SwatTeam members willing to work has been an obstacle for the organization.

“I can only speak for the past year, but there are lot of workers who will withdraw last minute,” Chinnappan said. “If you have a lot of people signed up to staff an event, someone might choose not to show up because they think somebody else will. We want to focus more on getting people who say they’re going to work to actually work.”

If there are a lack of SwatTeam members willing to work, organizations may not be able to hold open parties or serve alcohol at them. According to SwatTeam director Eli Kissman ’19 the number of SwatTeam workers that are required to work a party is determined by the size of the space and whether an alcohol permit was submitted.

This number [of SwatTeam members working] is somewhat flexible but there is a general guideline for each space, which is based on the number of exits as well as the size of the space,” Kissman wrote in an e-mail. “We will increase the number of SwatTeam members working at a given event if we believe it will be more popular for any reason.”

A party can be shut down if there are too few SwatTeam members. This is determined based on the order that the alcohol permits were submitted.

According to Mark Hergenroeder ’19, president of Phi Psi, a closed party for the frat means that the party is limited to a smaller capacity than an open party.

We [the brothers] check IDs at the door and manage a spreadsheet of attendance. The most salient difference is that we prefer to limit capacity,” Hergenroeder wrote in an e-mail. “It’s more challenging to ensure a safe party environment with larger capacities.”

Hergenroeder sees the lack of SwatTeam members as a persistent issue for organizations looking to host parties.

I don’t like turning people away, but that’s the unfortunate consequence of being understaffed. We are happy to be flexible and help when possible, but it’s the third time this problem occurred despite having people who I’ve explicitly mentioned are willing to be trained,” Hergenroeder wrote. “This is confusing, unacceptable and unfair to every student organization who hosts.”

According to Hergenroeder, Phi Psi works with SwatTeam to take safety precautions before, during, and after parties.

We follow the list of procedures outlined in the Student Handbook to host parties. We work with SwatTeam in a lot of ways. The most important thing is cultivating a genuine, trustful relationship with them,” Hergenroeder wrote. “Before the event we create a group chat with SwatTeam to ensure easy communication, we identify brothers designated at ‘Party Monitors’ who are additionally resources for them, and we routinely check in with Swat Team throughout the night to debrief.”

Kissman believes that the solution to having enough SwatTeam members to work parties is to hire more members.

SwatTeam is not an easy job, which I think explains the low retention rate. You certainly cannot do your homework while working SwatTeam the way you can in some other jobs. We will hopefully alleviate the shortage of SwatTeam members by hiring new members,” Kissman wrote. “Ultimately if students want to party on this campus, there will be students working SwatTeam because SwatTeam is a requirement for open parties according to the student handbook.”

Regardless of whether SwatTeam hires more members or obtains more people to regularly work parties, the college will continue to require the presence of SwatTeam to ensure safety at parties.

Swat Team revitalized to enhance party safety

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Photo by Sadie Rittman

Along with changes made to the campus’ alcohol policies, Swat Team has undergone its own structural and training changes.

While Swat Team — previously known as the Party Associates (PAs)—has been in the process of transforming its policies and image since the last academic school year (ID scanner, a name change, wristbands), the current fall semester has witnessed additional changes to their alcohol and safety awareness training.

Swat Team is a student safety resource and bystander intervention team present at all campus parties serving alcohol. According to Mike Elias, assistant director of student activities, leadership, and greek life, Swat Team has received training from campus resources such as Public Safety, Violence Prevention Educator Nina Harris, Drug and Alcohol Educator Josh Ellow, Title IX Coordinator Kaaren Williamsen and Elias himself.

“The vision of the program is to create a team of students who are empowered and equipped at addressing student safety concerns/issues within party spaces,” said Elias in an e-mail to the Phoenix.

A new component to the team’s training included a condensed version of Training Intervention Procedures (TIPS), a program that aims at developing skills designed to prevent intoxication, underage drinking and drunk driving.

Elias elaborates, “Both Josh Ellow and myself are Certified TIPS-Trainers and have provided a condensed version of the training to the entire SwatTeam in order to improve the team’s ability to identify and respond to situations where intoxication presents a safety risk to students at all-campus parties and events.”

Veda Khadka ’16, this year’s Swat Team student director, said she was glad to have received the new training.

“TiPs training is great because it helps debunk a lot of common myths around drinking that we often fall subject to without realizing, with more accurate knowledge on how to identify and aid (to some extent) a sick individual, Swat Team staff members can do their jobs better,” she said in an e-mail to the Phoenix.

Swat Team consists of student director Khadka, six managers, and a team of Swat Team staff members. The managers oversee team members working at parties, interact with Public Safety, and coordinate with team members at different campus parties in order to anticipate potential overcrowding at a particular party.

“The structure of the program allows for leadership development as students gain experience working in various positions on the team,” said Elias.

Swat Team members have expressed frustration regarding the campus’s perception of the organization. Kaitlyn Ramirez ’17, a Swat Team staff member, felt that the student body was ill-informed on Swat Team’s role at campus parties.

“We’re not Public Safety, we’re not the Swarthmore police,” she said.

Chris Capron ’15, a Swat Team manager, agreed.

“We all do this job because we care about the well-being of students, and sometimes that means enforcing rules that are frustrating or don’t make immediate sense, so we ask for patience,” said Capron.

Capron further affirmed that “if someone at a party wants something, a walk home, help with a friend, or if they don’t feel 100 percent comfortable, I really encourage anyone in that situation to ask a [Swat Team] member for help.”

Khadka expressed a similar need to establish Swat Team’s role as an ally and safety resource that the campus should trust.

“We’re also just students doing our jobs,” she said. “It’s hard to separate the shirt and the student.”

Assault prompts new party ID policy

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Following the sexual assault of a Bryn Mawr student at a party on campus last month, the college has initiated a policy of swiping student IDs at the doors of all social events where alcohol is being served. Operated by members of SwatTeam – the student group responsible for regulating parties – the ID scanners provide the college with information about how many students attend each party and which students arrive at what time. To the extent that individuals without Swarthmore IDs are denied admittance if unaccompanied by a student, the ID scanners also serve to limit the number of people unaffiliated with the college at each party.

“Our primary concern is always to provide a safe and healthy environment for all of our students and visitors,” said Beth Pitts, the associate director of investigations for Public Safety. “ID scanners will assist in those efforts. Utilizing scanners provides a measure of accountability we would not otherwise have.”

In case of misconduct at social events where IDs are being scanned, Public Safety could use the data provided by the scanners to assist in their investigations.

“If the person attending the party is a Swarthmore student, their ID gets scanned through the Swat-specific card slot until the ID number of the student comes up,” said Max Hernandez ‘17, a member of SwatTeam. “The ID number is then stored in a drive on the scanner so we basically have a database on who was at each party.”

Though the college has experimented with the ID swiping policy at large parties such as Halloween and the Masquerade Ball, the program has never been instituted on a regular basis. January 30th’s Pub Nite – which took place just hours after the new protocol was announced in an email from Dean of Diversity Lili Rodriguez – marked the first time the scanners were used in a space other than Sharples. Just four days earlier, on January 26th, the college reported the sexual assault of a Bryn Mawr student at a party on campus. According to Pitts, who is leading the investigation, the assault is believed to have been committed by an individual completely unaffiliated with any of the Tri-Co colleges.

Because most visitors to the college are recognizable to only a few people at the parties they attend, it is difficult to hold them accountable for their actions, and this shortage of eyewitnesses presents complications for Public Safety in the event of an investigation. The new ID scanning protocol aims to prevent such difficulties in the future by accounting for all arriving guests.

“All Tri-Co and outside community guests must be hosted by a Swarthmore student, as well as have their state ID to gain access,” said Rodriguez. “If a guest cannot present a valid form of identification, they will not be granted access to the party.”

According to Hernandez, at the entrance to each party, SwatTeam members swipe guests’ state IDs in order to store the information of the driver’s license in the same database as the Swarthmore ID card numbers. In this way, all individuals entering the party can be accounted for regardless of whether or not they attend the college.

But while this policy intends to restrain the number of individuals unaffiliated with the college who would normally attend parties, in the first few instances of its installment, the ID swiping program also turned away many students who attend the college.

“The email stating that IDs were required was sent out late that Thursday, around 5:00 p.m.,” said Hernandez. “Some people didn’t get a chance to see it and just counted on being vouched for, or knowing one of the SwatTeam members.”

Because of the new policies, Hernandez and the other members of the SwatTeam working that night were forced to deny these people entry.

“There was a pretty long line, and a lot of people without IDs didn’t get in,” said Laurie Sellars ‘15, who attended January 30th’s Pub Nite. “There were people trying to come into Pub Nite through side doors because they didn’t have their IDs.”

While situations like these are not expected to recur as the ID scanning policy becomes a more established feature of social events at the college, problems with the system still remain. According to Hernandez, the college’s efforts to prevent non-Swarthmore individuals from attending parties can also be undermined relatively easily.

“If the student is from Bryn Mawr or Haverford, they need to have a host on campus who they can sort of depend on,” he said.

Hernandez’s concern stems from the potential for individuals unaffiliated with the college to approach anyone with a Swarthmore ID and ask them to introduce them to the SwatTeam member as their guest. According to the policy, anyone vouched for and in possession of a state ID could be admitted.

Further complications arose this past Saturday at the entrances of both the Phi Psi Fraternity House and Paces Cafe where SwatTeam members without scanners asked party-goers were to present their IDs and to write down their names on a piece of paper outside of the door. According to members of SwatTeam, Public Safety never delivered any scanners to the SwatTeam during the night.

Without the scanners, the SwatTeam was forced to proceed through a modified protocol where they counted the number of people entering each party manually. This slowed the lines entering parties and led to long wait times at the door.

“I brought my ID because I thought it would be scanned,” said Madeline Conca ’17, who attended parties at Paces and Phi Psi. “When I finally got to the front of the line, I just had to hand my ID to the SwatTeam people. I think they just looked at it to make sure it said ‘Swarthmore College.’”

Still, administrators had a different conception of Saturday’s protocol. Regarding the events of Saturday night, Mike Elias, the faculty director of the SwatTeam as well as the student activities coordinator at the college, said, “scanners were used, but as of right now we only have two scanners – though we are in the process of purchasing three more – so they are allocated to the larger parties first.”

On Saturday nights, SwatTeam members could be regulating any number of event spaces, including Paces, Phi Psi Fraternity, Delta Upsilon Fraternity, and Olde Club. Additionally, according to Rodriguez, any party with more than 30 people in attendance must have a SwatTeam member present who checks guests’ IDs.

Depending on the night, SwatTeam members might be unable to scan IDs at many of the events occurring on campus.

Regardless of whether or not the scanners are present at every party, their installment represents a significant change in safety protocol and is indicative of Public Safety’s increased influence over the college’s Interim Party Policy.

“The scanners will continue to be used on campus,” Pitts said. “Our community’s safety is all of our responsibility.”

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